Editor’s Note: This story was written by Emily Fedor and Taylor Rescignano for Ithaculture, an Ithaca College student publication and is republished with permission.

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ITHACA, NY – Sara Gaughan picks up her paintbrush and creates swift strokes of orange on a clean white canvas. Eventually, the dark silhouettes of a tree and a large black bird will rest on the sunset-colored background.

Dozens of eyes open wide, hypnotically following Gaughan’s rhythmic motions as the paint covers each blank section. A number of paint-coated brushes can be seen moving feverishly around the room in an attempt to mimic Sara’s work.

“Mine looks like a fire all the way around it…” says one woman in dismay.
Sara smiles and replies: “If you’re stressed out, take a sip of wine!”

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The trend of painting and drinking has been leaving its mark across the country over the past few years. It offers unique opportunities to trained artists as well as people whose artistic skill levels are highlighted by their finger painting days of their childhood.

Paint Nite events are one outlet for this growing culture. Dan Herman and Sean McGrail created the concept for the events after celebrating a friend’s birthday over drinks at a paint studio. According to the Paint Nite website, the duo believed these events could “support local talented artists and small businesses.”

One local artist in the Ithaca area whose craft has found support through this trend is Cathlyn Pistolas. A graduate student at Ithaca College, she decided to double major in psychology and studio art during her undergraduate years after realizing how difficult it is to make a living as an artist.

“I found really easily that I couldn’t major in painting and actually make a career out of it,” said Pistolas. “So instead I decided to do graphic design because it was realistic, but I’ve always had a passion for painting and just art in general.”

But then Pistolas found a job as a Paint Nite assistant instructor, which she described as a “dream come true.” She regularly hosts Paint Nite events at local restaurants such as Joe’s Restaurant on West Buffalo Street and the Carriage House Cafe on Stewart Avenue.

Wine & Design is another establishment that incorporates painting in a more social atmosphere. Similarly to the fellas of Paint Nite, Wine & Design founder Harriet Mills was inspired by a “sip and paint class” she attended while on a summer beach trip with friends.

Wine & Design events differ from Paint Nites in the sense that these events are BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze) exclusive and are mainly hosted at a studio.

Although she has no formal artistic training, Sara Gaughan, owner of the Ithaca branch of Wine & Design located on Cayuga Street, has always had a passion for that arts. She loves the bursts of both creativity and relaxation that spark from these events.

Gaughan said that the people of Ithaca have really seemed to like what Wine & Design has to offer—a change of pace from a typical night out on the town.

“We have a lot of people who come in here that just want to paint and hang out and not feel judged and just be creative on their own,” said Gaughan.

Painting and other types of crafting are known for being creative outlets that offer relaxation, but for some who aren’t comfortable with their artistic abilities, the process brings more anxiety.

However, when the opportunity to paint is offered in a social atmosphere and combined with a drink or two, both Pistolas and Gaughan said people tend to feel more comfortable expressing themselves.

“I don’t know [where the idea came from],” said Gaughan, “but whoever came up with it is a genius. I think it really does help with the creativity.”

“The alcohol adds a little bit of a dimension to it,” said Pistolas. “A lot of people find that just having one drink helps them loosen up with their friends a little bit after a long day. There’s no pressure… but you do see if they just have a glass of wine, it helps them get a little more flexible with it.”

BJ Nelson attended her first Wine & Design session as part of a girls’ night out with friends. She spent the evening with a glass of Da Vinci Chianti in one hand and her paintbrush in another and left with a beautiful painting.

Nelson admitted that she’s not the artistic type and said that she probably wouldn’t have found herself painting—or working with any type of creative medium—if it weren’t for this type of outlet.

“I’m very insecure when it comes to anything creative or artistic,” said Nelson. “I’m out of my comfort zone, but it’s a lot of fun. I’m glad I did it.”

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Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.